“The Godfather” is Terrible. Here’s Why That’s Okay.

Paul Cantor
5 min readAug 2, 2018

Many people have seen The Godfather. The Francis Ford Coppola-directed movie is frequently cited as one of the best — if not the best — films of all time. And rightfully so, it’s a family movie disguised as a crime drama masquerading as an inside look at the mafia. Layers upon layers of brilliance.

But the movie is actually adapted from a book, one you’ve probably seen in an airport bookstore, laying on a nightstand at your crazy uncle’s house or literally anywhere else on earth. It has sold more than 30 million copies.

And yet, the book is, well — not good. It’s readable. Arguably enjoyable (the way candy is enjoyable). But it does not hold a candle to the movie. For example, an entire subplot in the book deals with the size of Sonny Corleone’s dick. Yeah, you could even say the book is terrible.

Still, for author Mario Puzo, The Godfather was a breakthrough. Before it was published, Puzo had written two other novels. They’d earned critical acclaim, but sold few copies. One day he woke up and he was 45-years-old. He had a wife and five children to support. And he was crippled by a gambling habit.

The guy was always broke.

So Puzo began brainstorming big ideas. The mafia was in the news a lot then, the public fascinated by the underworld and the shadow government secretly pulling the strings behind every facet of what was then contemporary American life. Thus began The Godfather — not an attempt to please critics or even himself, but rather, the popular audience.

He hoped the book would make him a lot of money.

The Godfather was released in 1969 and immediately became a bestseller. Then three years later, when the movie came out, Puzo wrote an autobiography of sorts, The Godfather Papers, which explores his experience writing the screenplay and working on the film.

Puzo rather enjoyed Hollywood. While making The Godfather, he wrote the script, hung with movie stars, swam and played tennis. In the span of a few years, he’d gone from the poor house in Long Island to a beach house in Malibu.

Mario Puzo was living the dream.

But the most interesting part of The Godfather Papers is not Puzo’s story about making…

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Paul Cantor

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.